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Lives not devoted to politics

Most evangelicals are storming the gates of hell, not the gates of the Capitol

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Lives not devoted to politics
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“Do you know what the word ‘woke’ means?”

“No, I never heard of it.”

“It’s all over social media.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t spend much time on social media.”

“Sorry? I couldn’t be more proud of you for what you just said.”

That was a conversation I had with my pastor, Father Jay. As a new wave of disapproval of conservative Christian political engagement washes over us, it’s important to put things in perspective. Atheist Rob Reiner, with an assist from Never Trump luminaries such as Phil Vischer, Russell Moore, Kristin Du Mez, and David French, has produced a film, God & Country, with a trailer that suggests a rather alarmist message about the dangers of conservative Christian political engagement.

The target is the vaguely defined, catch-all title “Christian nationalism,” the same target aimed at by ex-vangelical Tim Alberta in his recent book The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism, which warns us about untold masses of conservative Christians for whom “America is their kingdom” and whose patriotism “has given way to right-wing nationalist fervor, a reckless blood-and-soil idolatry that trivializes the kingdom of Jesus Christ.”

What all this tut-tutting misses is that the vast majority of evangelicals are just not creatures of politics. They don’t live on social media and when they are there, they’re checking up on friends and parishioners. Father Jay knows how to perform baptisms, weddings, and funerals because he’s done them by the thousands. Having logged 30 years in recovery, he has helped hundreds get into recovery, and that was even before the opioid crisis. The point isn’t just about my friend Jay, it’s about the tens of thousands of pastors like them and the tens of millions in their flocks, who on a daily basis do the work of the Kingdom.

Yes, they probably vote—and if they are white evangelicals, they probably voted for Trump and probably will again—but politics is a tiny part of their lives. Defining a religious group almost exclusively through a nonreligious lens such as politics creates a distorted image.

Jan. 6 is no more indicative of rank-and-file conservative Christians than Antifa riots are of rank-and-file liberal Democrats.

The abuses of ultra-right political zealotry are real and growing. Jan. 6 showed us that. But Jan. 6 is no more indicative of rank-and-file conservative Christians than Antifa riots are of rank-and-file liberal Democrats. The constant coverage of the worst of the other side is not accurate, nor is it productive. It is destructive. Both sides should stop doing it. Of course, red, white, and blue Trump shofars and a demonstration at the Capitol complete with guillotines and crosses are terrible, even sacrilegious. But the lurid focus on it will not convince anyone of anything, aside from convincing liberal elites to be even more smug in their sense of moral superiority.

It’s time to call a hiatus on the browbeating from Never Trump evangelicals and former evangelicals and quasi evangelicals and their scolding of the brethren, not because MAGA world is flawless, but because relentless scolding is a flawed strategy for dealing with it. And doing that scolding from new perches within elite liberal institutions raises at least the appearance that what might have started as conscientious objector status has morphed into career advancement.

The Messiah University historian John Fea, among the fiercest evangelical critics of Trumpism, has raised the same issue, and his friends should pay him heed. Extremism has infected the Body of Christ, both its left and its right sides. An immune response is called for to expel the pathogens. But there is a difference between an immune response and an autoimmune response. Immune responses attack a disease, but auto-immune responses are a disease. They attack not just the pathogen but the whole body as well.

Most of the politics that most of us are doing most days is the politics of living in Christian community, worshipping together, visiting the sick, distributing food, blankets, and kind words. Yes, there are some high-profile televangelists who bang on about Trump as God’s anointed, but that’s a fraction of the number of clergy who are more focused on anointing the sick in the name of the Savior than anointing a political savior.

Respect is due to the Frenches, Vischers, and Moores, whose conscience-driven objections to Trump were, and still are, a needed part of the conversation. But the time has come for them to think about the vast majority of Christians who aren’t quite sure what “woke” means, or what’s trending on Christian Twitter. They are the true evangelical community of which the hyper-partisans are but a fraction. These are the people who would never dream of storming the capital, but who on a daily basis, through their worship and their lives of service, storm the gates of hell.

Jerry Bowyer

Jerry Bowyer is the chief economist of Vident Financial, editor of Townhall Finance, editor of the business channel of The Christian Post, host of Meeting of Minds with Jerry Bowyer podcast, president of Bowyer Research, and author of The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics. He is also resident economist with Kingdom Advisors, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, and is senior fellow in financial economics at the Center for Cultural Leadership. Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest three of his seven children.

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